By leading Uruguay to become the first nation to fully legalize marijuana, José Mujica has struck a long-overdue and brutal blow against organized crime.
Many decades ago, in its heyday of influence, TIME Magazine inaugurated its annual “Man of the Year” designation. Always a marketing ploy, it’s meant to reflect the person who either made most news or created most change in the preceding 12 months. It’s since become an anachronism, but still gets attention. This year TIME selected Pope Francis.
Given the vast number of Catholics, and how much the freewheeling, maverick new Pope has challenged many ossified orthodoxies in short order, the choice is perfectly defensible. In centuries past, such a provocative leader might have met a grim fate.
One can easily imagine a Renaissance Vatican banquet at which, the general attention somehow diverted, a hollow ring is deftly opened, pestilent powder then artfully sprinkled into the papal goblet before a hearty toast… and, with a little sip, farewell Pope! Call forth the Camerlengo.
But we are, thankfully, long past such things, we trust.
Like many others, with all due respect to the editors of TIME, I have my own preference. A unique political leader, the President of Uruguay, José Mujica, was already a potentially sentimental candidate. But with one unprecedented gesture, he has now become a deeply compelling one.
Mujica’s visionary breakthrough is that he has had the courage to lead his small, and now happy and stable, country to take the obvious, logical, and rational step that so many others around the world cower from in abject terror: legalizing marijuana. Uruguayans who wish to smoke cannabis must now simply register with the government and limit themselves to 40 grams a month.
Mujica has pointed out the simple and obvious truth: the marijuana trade in his country is at least a $40 million industry that will no longer be controlled by gangsters but instead be legally regulated and taxed by the state. This non-addictive, non-toxic, organic plant that some people find pleasant – personally, I do not like it and never touch the stuff – will no longer fund the underworld in his country. The insane, near universal, prohibition has finally been lifted by a sensible country led by a sensible man. Why this took so long is the only possible question.
One possible answer is the positively hysterical reaction of the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), which has condemned Uruguay for acting without its exalted permission and called its decision “illegal.” In his patented plainspoken manner, Mujica gave the ghastly INCB chief inquisitor Raymond Yans exactly what he deserved: “Tell that old man to stop lying,” he said. “Because he sits in a comfortable international platform, he believes he can say whatever nonsense.” Amen!
Mujica notes that the sublimely hypocritical Yans never said a word about European countries or American states that decriminalized cannabis, but has gone on a rampage against Uruguay, even accusing it of “piracy.”
Yans is a lowly international lickspittle whose bleating is properly waved aside with the utmost derision. Mujica has dealt with far sterner opponents: he’s a veteran of the Tupamaros armed revolutionary movement, who has since become a center-leftist, creative thinker, and uniting figure in Uruguay. But in his revolutionary days, he served over 15 years in prison, two of them at the bottom of a well amid the rats and spiders.
He and the other Tupamaros were the objects of one of the more elaborate historical experiments in torture. This was, unfortunately, overseen not only by Uruguay’s fascist government but also the CIA’s torture guru Dan Mitrione, officially head of the” Office of Public Safety” mission.
Mitrione is reputed to have advocated, instructed, and experimented with torture in Uruguay as an art form. “The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect,” was reportedly his credo, but always leaving “some hope … a distant light” of survival and relief. He also advocated a little additional torture after the required information was extracted as a disincentive to further subversion.
In 1970 Mitrione was kidnapped and assassinated, but tellingly not tortured, by the Tupamaros.
With the restoration of a constitutional democracy in 1985, Mujica was freed. He became a populist politician, living in ostentatious austerity on a farm and driving a dilapidated Volkswagen. He is reputed to be “the poorest president in the world,” purportedly giving 90% of his $19,000 annual salary to charity.
Populism of this style can be its own kind of demagoguery and hype. I have long been intrigued by him, but remained somewhat skeptical.
Now that Mujica has had the vision to lead Uruguay to legalize marijuana (and abortion, for that matter), one can only say “bravo, and may others have the guts to follow suit.” Otherwise, the rest of the world can continue to arrange their laws for the convenience and empowerment of organized crime, at the expense of both the public and rational governance.